The Free is probably one of the shortest fantasy novels I have read in the last year, however probably packed more punch than any four tome series I have ever read. Done through succinct, yet still lyrical writing and denying some of the more arduous rambles through magical systems and world building, it is a brief glimpse into the last days of a mercenary group off to fight their last battle.
That is not to say the magic and world building is forgotten or done poorly, but is given to the reader by way of seeing what is done, rather than how. There are little divergences here and there to explain the consequences of action, but only what was necessary to make sure the reader understands the sacrifices each character makes and allows the emotional impact of each sacrifice to wield a really powerful blow. Watching the magic unfold (as I felt I was watching it, rather than reading it) was a thing of beauty, even as it stole and ripped from the characters. Totally brutal, though more believable than anything else I could compare it to. Though at one point I had a "The birds! The birds!" moment, which was probably my head trying to deflect the sense of grief filling the scene.
The world is given to us through the characters experiences of it, rather than Ruckley simply telling us what it is and why it is. It was an exclusive experience, but made it clear this was not about the greater whole, but only why these characters are here and doing what they are doing. I certainly wasn't left with any lingering feeling that I had missed anything of greater importance.
The writing is simple and accessible, refreshingly so. There was no need to use arcane words so long forgotten you needed a dictionary in your free hand, to explain the workings of this novel. The importance of the task at hand and the bond between the characters was enough to carry it through without unnecessary affectations.
Nothing is missing from this vignette. Bravery, love, loss, massive battles, down right despicable enemies and intrigues galore, a massive book in content, even though it had a narrow view scope. And albeit I love a good rambling read, I actually think fleshing it out any more would've just made it flabby. It's fast motions kept me captivated enough to read it in one sitting. And quite sad to see it end!
If you are looking for all the heroes to walk off into the sunset unscathed and skipping toward bright futures as the next kings and queens of the realm however, well, this isn't one of those books. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, but not because it ended on the wrong note, it actually wrapped up with more skill than the greats of the genre seem to muster. However, I am a greedy reader and I was yearning to see where the future would lead for the characters, so with great frustration I had to concede to the fact it is a set piece, not a life story.
Though, the ending could be a nice intro to the world in the aftermath of a certain untamed and very angry flying Permanence.. Just a suggestion Mr. Ruckley ;)
A very accomplished fantasy and very satisfying first foray into the depths of Ruckley's little grab of genius. Looking forward to delving into the authors other books. *runs off to frantically search the kindle store*